Cheryl Bruno Hits One out of the Park

I just finished reading a very impressive review from Cheryl Bruno of Brian and Laura Hales’s Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding.

Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy for the Unsettled Latter-day Saint

She’s absolutely right: the problem is that the Haleses superimpose 20th-century LDS understandings on 19th-century evidence. Thus, what doesn’t work with a modern understanding is minimized or ignored. It’s the same reaction I had when I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Interesting, sure, but hampered by a need to put everything into a Marxist dialectic. 

The Hales book is an excellent example of Hayden White’s argument:

Before the historian can bring to bear upon the data of the historical field the conceptual apparatus he will use to represent and explain it, he must first prefigure the field–that is to say, constitute it as an object of mental perception. This poetic act is indistinguishable from the linguistic act in which the field is made ready for interpretation as a domain of a particular kind.

The Haleses have prefigured the field of study as correlated history, which severely constrains the “object of mental perception.” For my money, Emma Smith: Mormon Enigma and In Sacred Loneliness are far more useful in giving a “better understanding” of Mormon polygamy. But as Ms. Bruno suggests, the Haleses seem more interested in a reconstruction that comforts Mormons who are troubled by the history.

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3 Responses to Cheryl Bruno Hits One out of the Park

  1. As for the blog article to which you refer, for me the whole matter can be summed up as:

    “Brian frequently employs in the previous three volumes of this set, the authors discount such evidence in the following manner:

    no contemporary records of his teachings have been found except for a few entries in the journal of his clerk William Clayton (p. xiv, emphasis added).

    This language leaves an impression upon the mind of the reader that is incorrect. If there is one idiosyncrasy which bothers me about Brian Hales’s writing it is this. He often insists that there is no evidence for certain conclusions (except for the evidence he wishes to discount). This technique tends to plant in the mind the lack of support for certain ideas and encourage disregard for salient evidence that we do have.”

    Therefore, in reference to the notion of a “polygamy puzzle,” what the Hales’ do is change the puzzle picture and cut it up into a very simple few pieces in order to assert, “See, so easy to fit everything together and get an accurate sense of the whole picture (history and valid theocracy). And oh, what a lovely, sensible picture it is!”

    Yes, we have to be made aware that in order to determine the most-accurate-as-we-can truth of a matter one has to factor the historical contextualization of both the extant data, as well as forthright, objective-as-we-can, erudite speculation, but come on: For the most part, yesterday, today and tomorrow, a rose and its scent by any other name is still a ‘rose’, as is also stinkweed. And the polygamy of Joseph Smith Jr. et al stinks to high heaven and the abyss of hell.


  2. CAB says:

    Apparently, by “better understanding” the Hales mean easier to swallow without gagging.
    “Let us re-contextualize what is absolutely unacceptable in order for you to continue to feel comfortable revering the man ‘who communes with Jehovah.'”

  3. I recently saw an interview in which Mrs. Hales said part of their purpose was to inoculate LDS members.

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